GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Justin Hardy and Shane Carden started their East Carolina careers working together on the scout team. Four years later, their connection means everything to the Pirates' pass-heavy attack — and has put both fifth-year seniors within reach of all kinds of records.
Hardy, a former walk-on, has the chance to set the bowl subdivision record for career catches and already owns the program record for career receiving yards. Carden, meanwhile, could own nearly every ECU career passing record by the end of the year.
"They were doing it the hard way when none of you guys even knew their name," offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. "They're still doing what they're doing, just on a little bit different stage."
The numbers have added up quickly, especially for Hardy.
He has 266 career catches, putting him 84 away from passing Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles (349) for the FBS career record set in 2011. Hardy had 88 catches as a sophomore and 114 as a junior.
"I still have to perform," Hardy said. "I've still got to practice hard. I've still got to practice like my position might get taken, so I'm not really focused on that right now."
Carden, who spent two years on the scout team, won the starting job early in the 2012 season and led the Pirates' spread offense ever since with Hardy as his go-to target.
That Carden-to-Hardy connection accounted for 1,284 yards last year to rank second among returning quarterback-receiver duos in FBS, according to STATS. Only Baylor's Bryce Petty-to-Antwan Goodley tandem (1,339 yards) had more.
Carden and Hardy helped ECU average a program-record 40.2 points in the program's first 10-win season since 1991. That included road routs of Atlantic Coast Conference programs North Carolina and North Carolina State.
"That combo was as good as we saw at any point during the season," said Dan Disch, the Tar Heels' defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach. "They both can give you fits, man — and they did."
Hardy's improbable climb began as an overlooked recruit with one Division II scholarship offer out of West Craven, a school running the spread offense about 25 miles southeast of the ECU campus in Vanceboro.
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